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Lead Pipes Endanger Lives — Act Now for Safe Drinking Water

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Sponsor: The Hunger Site

Millions of Americans drink water from dangerous lead pipes—act now to protect our health and ensure safe drinking water for all.

Millions of Americans still drink water from hazardous lead pipes. Despite being banned from new installations in the 1980s, old lead pipes remain a significant public health threat. The current administration has pledged billions to address this issue, but the journey to safe drinking water is fraught with challenges and complications.

Why Lead Pipes Are Dangerous

Lead exposure is a critical health risk, particularly for young children and pregnant women. Even low levels of lead can cause serious health issues, including developmental delays, learning difficulties, and reduced IQ in children. For adults, lead exposure is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states unequivocally that there is no safe level of lead exposure1. Despite these dangers, many older homes and cities still rely on lead service lines. These pipes, connecting water mains to residential plumbing, are a primary source of lead contamination in drinking water2.

The Flint Crisis: A Stark Reminder

The Flint, Michigan water crisis of 2014 was a shocking wake-up call. When the city's water source was switched, insufficient water treatment caused lead to leach from pipes into the water supply, exposing thousands of residents to dangerous levels of lead3. The crisis underscored the urgent need for systemic changes and highlighted the devastating impact of governmental and infrastructural neglect.

Current Efforts and Funding

The White House has committed to removing all lead pipes across the country within a decade. This ambitious goal includes significant financial support, with $15 billion allocated through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Recently, an additional $3 billion was announced specifically for identifying and replacing lead service lines4. This funding aims to ensure that disadvantaged communities, often hit hardest by lead contamination, receive the necessary resources to replace their lead pipes. According to the NRDC, approximately 9 million lead service lines remain in use, many in older, urban areas5.

The Challenge of Partial Replacements

One significant issue is the practice of partial lead pipe replacements. This involves replacing only a section of the lead pipe, typically the portion owned by the municipality, while leaving the rest—often the homeowner's responsibility—in place. Studies have shown that partial replacements can actually increase lead levels in drinking water6. The new pipe materials can disturb the remaining lead pipes, causing more lead to leach into the water.

Success Stories and Best Practices

Despite these challenges, there are success stories. Cities like Detroit and Newark have shown that comprehensive pipe replacement is possible even in financially strained environments7. Detroit, for instance, decided to replace all lead pipes during water main work, regardless of the cost or logistical hurdles. This decision was driven by a commitment to protect the health of the city's residents.

Community Involvement and Education

Effective lead pipe replacement also requires community involvement and education. Residents must be informed about the dangers of lead and the importance of replacing lead service lines. Programs that provide financial assistance for pipe replacement and extensive public outreach are crucial. In Tucson, Arizona, a significant portion of federal funds is being used to develop comprehensive lead service line inventories and educate the public about the risks of lead in drinking water8.

The Path Forward

The path to eliminating lead from our water systems is clear but challenging. Funding and regulatory efforts are vital steps. However, achieving the goal of lead-free water requires continued vigilance, adequate funding, and a commitment to public health.

As we move forward, it's essential to remember that the health and well-being of millions of Americans are at stake. The legacy of lead pipes is one of neglect and inequality. Correcting this requires not just financial investment but also a moral commitment to ensuring safe drinking water for all. By continuing to invest in and prioritize public health, we can hope to see a future where lead contamination in drinking water is a distant memory.

Take Action Now

Join us in urging the EPA to hasten the removal of lead pipes from our water systems. Sign the petition today to protect our health and ensure safe drinking water for future generations.

More on this issue:

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency (2 May 2024), "Biden-Harris Administration Announces $3 Billion for Lead Pipe Replacement to Advance Safe Drinking Water."
  2. Michael Phillis and Matthew Daly, Associated Press (30 November 2023), "Cities must replace harmful lead pipes within 10 years under new Biden administration plan."
  3. Miranda Willson, EE News (15 February 2024), "States fear being bilked as funds flow to replace lead pipes."
  4. Michael Phillis, Associated Press (9 July 2023), "Decades after the dangers of lead became clear, some cities are leaving lead pipe in the ground."
  5. Cyndi Roper, NRDC (12 March 2018), "The Hidden Costs & Dangers of Partial Lead Pipe Replacements."
  6. United States Environmental Protection Agency (19 March 2024), "Science Advisory Board Evaluation of Effectiveness of Partial Lead Service Line Replacements."
  7. Lynne Peeples, Ensia, "Lead in Drinking Water: Success Stories from Newark and Detroit."
  8. Audrey-Olushola Momoh, United States Environmental Protection Agency (2 May 2024), "EPA Announces $287 Million for Arizona Lead Pipe Replacement to Advance Safe Drinking Water."
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The Petition:

To the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,

We, the undersigned, urgently call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to accelerate the removal of lead pipes from our nation’s water systems. Despite being banned from new installations in the 1980s, millions of Americans, particularly in older and disadvantaged communities, are still exposed to dangerous lead levels in their drinking water.

Lead exposure poses severe health risks, including developmental delays, learning difficulties, and reduced IQ in children, as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems in adults. The EPA has stated unequivocally that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Partial pipe replacements have proven ineffective, often exacerbating the contamination by disturbing the remaining lead pipes.

The White House has made commendable strides by dedicating billions of dollars towards this effort. However, the current timeline of a decade is too long. We urge the EPA to hasten this process, ensuring that lead pipes are removed swiftly and comprehensively, prioritizing the health and safety of all citizens.

Accelerating the removal of lead pipes will not only protect public health but also restore trust in our water systems. It is an essential step towards environmental justice, ensuring that all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to safe, clean drinking water. By taking immediate and decisive action, we can safeguard the health of current and future generations, fostering a healthier, brighter future for all.


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